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THE PRICE OF HAVING A GREAT TAN
          - MELANOMA
October 26 , 2007
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With all the problems I had with freckles, spots, and moles - I continued to watch for any type of changes on my skin. I turned forty and noticed a small brownish-red spot on my back on the right side of my shoulder. This spot was ragged looking, having the color and consistency of well cooked bacon, and did not heal.

After a few months, my ex-wife encouraged me to see my doctor. I told the doctor that this spot appeared to look like pictures of melanoma I had seen on the internet. He told me not to worry, it probably wasn't cancer, but would do a biopsy anyway.

Two weeks later, he calls me with the results of the biopsy, I have Melanoma! (see the WebMD Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center)  The cancer had not spread much more than "Stage 1" level* (see bottom of article for the various Stages and their explanations), about ¼ inch diameter, and about 1/8 inch deep. I went to the dermatologist who cut out over 1 3/4 inch diameter chunk of skin, down to the muscle.  Several stitches later, the gaping wound was closed. After having the cancer removed, I was given an 80% chance to live five years! All because of some small scabby spot on my back? Here are some photos of various types and instances of melanoma - so that you can see what it can look like:

                         melanoma types

I went to UCSF Melanoma clinic where they examined me, and took my history. They were very interested in how I was able to catch the cancer before it had spread. They used an ultraviolet light to look for areas of sun damage and took photos of large dark areas on my shoulders that were not the same color as the rest of my skin. Hopefully this data helped with their melanoma research.

I am writing this 12 years later, so I obviously survived. But those five years were very difficult, not really knowing if I would have a recurrence, or worse. I went to the dermatologist every six months for check ups and had no signs of new growths. The extra stress of this cancer scare added to problems in my marriage, and I was divorced before the five year mark. Needless to say these events were my midlife crisis, but I survived the odds. I am healthy now at age 52 as a Midlife Bachelor, and have very few skin problems these days.

My advice to midlife men and women, always check your skin for any changes. There is data that says 25-30 years after severe childhood sun burns is when the skin problems mentioned above start to appear.

Suggestions to Avoid the Melanoma Scare
Here are several suggestions that Brian T. and midlifebachelor.com came up with – based on our collective experiences:

1) Stay out of the sun
2) If you go out into the sun, use a high SPF sunscreen
3) Watch your skin for any changes - particularly if you are fair-skinned
4) Don't wait to see a dermatologist if there is ANY QUESTION about anything ... better safe than sorry.
5) Wear dark clothing, and/or multiple layers when in strong sunlight, because the UV rays can penetrate light clothing.
6) Wear a wide brimmed hat for protection of your face, neck, and your bald spot ;o)
7) Fair skinned people must always protect themselves, particularly in tropical climates.  Australia, for example, has some of the highest skin cancer rates in the world.
8) Did I mention to stay out of the sun? ;o)

So yes – you look great with that cool tan of yours … but remember there can certainly be a very high potential price to pay for it.  Nothing in life is free!

 * SKIN CANCER STAGING SYSTEM:
The lower the stage, the earlier the cancer has been diagnosed.
The stages of skin cancer are:
Stage 0 – the cancer is only in the top layer of skin (the epidermis)
Stage 1 – the cancer is less than 2cm across and has not spread
Stage 2 – the cancer is more than 2cm across and has not spread
Stage 3 – the cancer has spread to the tissues under the skin and possibly to nearby lymph nodes
Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to another part of the body

Written by: Brian T., Age 52, San Jose, CA
Edited by midlifebachelor.com


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